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March 27 in Motorsports History: F1’s last race at Long Beach

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Long Beach is regarded by fans and drivers alike as among the world’s most well-established street circuits.

The tight and windy course is the oldest annual event of its kind in the United States and plays host to the second biggest race on the IndyCar calendar.

But before America’s top open-wheel circuit raced in Long Beach, the event was part of the Formula One calendar.

Conceived and promoted by former travel agent Chris Pook, the first edition of the Grand Prix was a Formula 5000 race won by Brian Redman in 1975.

Formula One cars made their debut on the popular street circuit the following year, and for the next eight seasons, some of F1’s greatest drivers won the event.

Mario Andretti was Long Beach’s lone American winner during its status as a round of the World Championship, taking the checkers in 1977. Nelson Piquet won in 1980, and Nikki Lauda won in 1982.

While the race was one of the most popular events on the F1 schedule and brought global exposure to the region, it was not a financially sound venture. By 1983, Pook was in discussions with the new CART series to replace F1 with IndyCar racing, an announcement that was made following that year’s race.

Luckily for Southern Califonia F1 fans, Long Beach’s last event on the schedule was a wild one.

Ferrari teammates Patrick Tambay and Rene Arnoux started on the front row, followed by the two Williams entries of Keke Rosberg and Jacques Laffite.

All four drivers battled fiercely during the first third of the race. On Lap 25 Rosberg attempted to pass Tambay in the hairpin. However, Tambay attempted to shut the door, causing both to make contact and retire from the race. Laffite then took control of the lead.

John Watson,Niki Lauda, Rene Arnoux stand on the podium following the 1983 Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the two McLarens of John Watson and Niki Lauda were making their way through the field. Watson and Lauda qualified 22nd and 23rd, respectfully and initially weren’t considered serious contenders.

By Lap 45, both McLarens were right behind Tambay. With the Ferrari driver on wearing tires, Watson and Lauda both were able to pass, and remained in 1-2 through to the checkered flag. The victory was the fifth and final for Watson, who would retire from F1 two years later.

As expected, Long Beach did become a CART event the following season, with Mario Andretti winning the first event under the new sanctioning body.

The race since has become a local tradition for the coastal community, and though it was canceled this year because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it will return again next season and likely will remain one of motorsports’ premier events for years to come.

Also on this date:

1971: David Coulthard was born in Twynholm, Scotland. Between 1994 and 2008, Coulthard won 13 times in Formula One.

1977: Johnny Rutherford won the Jimmy Bryan 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, the second round of the 14-race USAC Champ Car Series season. Mario Andretti shockingly failed to qualify for the race.

2011: Dario Franchitti won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 2011 IndyCar season opener. Franchitti won three more races later in the year en route to his fourth and final championship

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